Understanding the Three Angels’ Messages

So, I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. I haven’t been in the church for ages, but a good few years have passed, through which I’ve experienced personal spiritual changes. I’d like to think that I’ve endured the winter of ignorance, bereft of knowledge; enjoyed hopeful spring and the budding excitement that a joy of true Bible study brings; then summer, and that strange overabundance of everything: witnessing zeal, criticising everyone else for not behaving how I behave–and now I’m comfortably in autumn: calm, not too much of anything, mellow and happy enough that major trials don’t keep me down for too long. Pretty much just drifting along with the wind now, like leaves…

Speaking of leaves… If I remember correctly, Ellen White said that she wanted her book, The Great Controversy, to fall like ‘autumn leaves’ across the nations. The Great Controversy is about a lot of things: sin, prophecy, papal corruption; the Protestant Reformation and Jesus’ soon coming. As Adventists, we pride ourselves in knowledge (or assumed knowledge) of Bible prophecy, Biblical numbers and times; interpretation and most importantly– the Three Angels’ Messages from Revelation 14. As a church, we believe that we should be giving this message to the world and to warn others about the enormity of sin, and the return of Jesus. All this is great, but for a while now I’ve become disconcerted with this whole ‘mission’ of our church. I’m not saying I don’t believe in it, but I think at times, we as individuals fall out of place with the rest of humanity in regards to it.

I am all aware that the Glory Days of the church were pretty much in the late 1800s: it was when everyone studied their Bibles, knew the doctrines back-to-back and prayed with faith and fervor. Now, we’re lazy and slack: I’m seeing grown adults who’ve been in the church for over 40 years making childish mistakes: I’ve witnessed people who should know better display worrying signs of never having known God at all. I’ve seen it and I get it and I hate it too, but I fear the response to this slumber has propelled some people into the other extreme. Spending hours in the Word; pouring over prophecies so that they know and can do a Bible study on them; preparing presentation after presentation. They know everything. They know the Message and the Mission off by heart, even.

But do they understand it? What happens when you read Revelation 14 with Revelation 18: 4 and then Ezekiel 33?
You get a cry and a plea for people to hear the truth. You understand that being a Seventh-day Adventist is more than the prophecies and the knowledge of the Bible, it’s about what you do with it. I’m honestly fed up with Bible scholars complaining about how little everyone knows about the Word, how terrible we all are as a church, but they can’t hold a conversation with anyone–and no one would ever approach them for solace during personal turmoil because they’re not compassionate. Some people in church have a lot of knowledge, but very few true friends: people in their congregation have been hurting through the week and there’s a reason why they haven’t opened their Bible in several months. They know they have a problem and they need you to pray for them, not lament about how little everyone knows compared to you.

I’ve spent this Sabbath evening watching interviews of B-Slade (Tonex); services recorded from Rainbow Churches and trailers for the reality show Preachers of LA. I could have cried. The world is dying and in need of true, Bible-believing Christians to give them a message of hope, to let them know that there is corruption and there are problems and they’re being deceived by a false message. These people are sincere and earnest in their worship to God, and seeing the above videos and how confused these congregations/preachers/gospel artists were made me so sad. This isn’t the time to just acquire knowledge so you can show it off to everyone–it’s time to ask God for wisdom! We need to pray for love and compassion; understanding, patience and tact: we need to understand that not everyone is the same and that we all have our own problems. We have to see sin and the world as God sees it: a planet in trouble, with hurting people who have been waiting their entire lives to hear from him. It’s this that will spur us on to commit to our duty of sharing the Three Angels’ Messages: not End Time videos and scare-sermons.

To me, that’s a true understanding of the Three Angels’ Messages. God is telling the world to come out of Babylon. He calls them “his people”. Being Adventist doesn’t make you better than them: being transformed by God makes you better than what you were before.

Happy Sabbath.

 

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So, the Piggy Bank is Empty.

“All the youth are leaving the church.”

And all it’s variations are common in most churches. It’s not something unique to my local church, but I think at times, mine is one of the worst churches for finding solutions to this problem….

Every now and then, the members have a discussion that we youth have entitiled: “What is wrong with our church?” When the afternoon programme has failed to materialise, we usually end up having a discussion about the problems we have in our church: all the issues and concerns, and what we would like to see done differently. When I was a newbie I actually believed the concerns would be taken to the church board and dealt with, but year after unfruitful year passed and I learned that my fellow members in reality used these meetings to get anger off their chests; say things that everyone’s been thinking for ages in order to get a hearty ‘Amen!’ and slag off the leaders that they have a problem with. Then there are those within these meetings that feign authenticity: they establish themselves as the One Sane Voice: the rationalist, who has loads of amazing ideas, only to end their speech with ‘well, this church hates change, so there’s no point in doing any of these things!’ Basically, what they mean is that they can’t be bothered to sacrifice the effort and time it would take to implement all these great ideas, so they’d rather blame their lethargy on the rest of the congregation.

To be honest, I’m tired of talking too. At the moment, my church has a good amount of youth but a huge group of teenagers—a group that is almost entirely disenchanted with church. The older members weep and wail over this disinterest and I think a lot of us who are older than them fluctuate between showing them sympathy and tough love. As I’ve observed the workings of my church, I too have lost respect for the older generation and I also feel disenchanted with the way things are going. Like the congregation that was too caught up in the spirit to see tired ol’ Eutychus on the windowsill in the Upper Room; the adults of my church, and many churches I know, are too caught up in themselves to see the problem.

If you want youth to stay in church, get them involved. Treat them like the fellow humans they are and give them greater responsibility. The church I attended in Jamaica was in the midst of a two-week campaign run by the children: everything, from the Bible working, Prayer Ministries, Music Department and lay preaching, was all handled by the children, and the church supported and encouraged them. Such a thing could never happen at my church! From when these teens (and some of the older youth) have been born, they’ve had to sit on a chair and get things told to them. They don’t get a chance to do much. Then their parents and the other adults expect that at 15 and 16 they would have developed their own relationship with Christ. Why is it that we only see children taking part in the main service when it’s 13th Sabbath School? Why must it be a youth day before the platform party is made up of youth? Why must it be Teens Day to see a teen giving a sermon, or doing special items in the main service?

The older generation has failed to invest in the young people. The youth have low confidence in their abilities and lack the will to do things because they’ve never been given a chance. Money goes on stupid things instead of securing the future of the church.

Why do we spend thousands of pounds on new PA systems and speakers and projectors? Why was money used to get new mics at £600 each?

Why were thousands of pounds spent on a community day, a project that was supposed to build rapport with the community and educate them about the church, when since that time last year there have been no followups with the community members who attended? None of those people have come into the church. What was the point of spending all that money, getting the most expensive option of everything, if the remainder of the evangelising was going to be abandoned?

Why is so much money spent on lunch?

Why are thousands of pounds wasted on flying international speakers over to do a campaign when only a quarter of the church can be bothered to turn up anyway?

Why is it that young people are having to do fundraisers and rely on people from outside the church to give money in order for them to go to evangelism and preaching schools? Why doesn’t the church use those thousands for the international speakers to give to their own youth and start bringing up confident speakers and evangelists from their own congregations?

Why are students having to suffer and struggle financially through their studies, and when they go to the church for help they have to involuntarily donate 20% of their funds to the church—because it’s just so broke it now needs the money from poor students.

Why does the community services department have to rely on donations in order for their soup kitchen to run smoothly? Why hasn’t there been money put in place so that they can buy materials to give to homeless people?

Why does the church now have no money?

Because it’s all been spent on the wrong things. We’ve lost focus. We’re more interested in entertaining ourselves than thinking about the future, about people out in the world, about the youth and teens who want to get involved but aren’t able to; who need to find their own relationship with God.

Stop praying. Stop groaning. Stop spending. And invest in us.

When You are Overwhelmed by your Self-Importance

I mean ‘overwhelmed’ in the ironic sense…

There’s an odd culture in church, a dangerous attitude where certain members who are perceived as holy become icons amongst their contemporaries. This turns into a ‘hype’ of sorts, and before long the person has acquired celebrity status; they will be found at every church event, their picture is in every album; people from North London to South Manchester know who they are. They have thousands of friends on Facebook; some so popular they have to rotate people, deleting some to add others, because they’ve reached the friend count limit. To be a part of this person’s true friendship circle, you have to be a very special person, and this automatically makes you important, just for being seen as important by the celebrity.

This behaviour is displayed more explicitly among the youth. My friends and I call these celebrities the “A-Listers”. Normally, the A-List is filled with singers and musicians, but there are also preachers on there, their girlfriends; socialites; people from old Adventist families; Bible workers and missionaries, and those who have set up their own ministries which have gained a following. It’s an interesting phenomenon to witness, but the sycophants that follow the A-Listers are what worry me. Even if they think they’re being sincere in their attempts to approach this special group, to find role models in church, their actions can be the downfall of others.

I bear no grudges against these popular people, for of course, they didn’t nominate themselves to this position, but even in a place like church a culture of celebrity exists and sometimes, even the most unsociable introverts are thrust into the limelight. But that meekness and humility of character can very easily warp into something ugly when you’re forever followed, praised by others, complimented on your talents, told how amazing you just are as a person; and everything you say is taken so seriously and dwelt upon. It’s almost as if your words become a gospel of their own… And then you start to believe you really are important. You are no longer a vessel surrendering to God to be filled, but you have filled yourself with the compliments of others. Your words are ambrosia: people taste them and receive strength.

It comes to the point when you feel the need to admonish for the sake of admonishing; filled with a zeal given to you by your peers, it is now your duty to show everyone where they’ve gone wrong. You could actually go onto Facebook or Twitter, write something as mundane as “Baa Baa black sheep”, and your followers would believe it has some esoteric meaning; they’ll just assume you’re so deep that they need to decipher the meaning of your sentence. Why is the sheep black? Is that a symbol for sin? Are we the sheep, like in the parable of the lost sheep, instead we’re not lost, we’re saturated in sin, but completely oblivious so we only talk in babble, which is what our sinful words sound like to God…. (???)

You get where I’m going? I’ve seen this attitude. It’s very unattractive for a person to believe that they are so important that everything they say must be from God, even when it truly isn’t. I’ve read some ludicrous statuses on Facebook where I’m literally peering deep into the screen, utterly perplexed, and all I see are commenters praising a statement that is quite spiritually questionable. This person, this A-Lister, has only reached this level of pride because they were thrust onto a golden stage and made into an idol. And because no one has challenged them, they have stopped listening to the Holy Spirit, to the point where their very sermons are an abomination, because the words came from a selfish place.

To conclude: there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people you can see are doing well, but it’s always important to know when to give God credit when it’s due. If someone is clearly walking on the right path, it’s because of the Holy Spirit, not because of anything they have done within themselves. Once you realise that, you will stop looking to others to start changing your own attitude about things, and start looking to God.

Because these church celebrities are as fragile and as prone to sinful ways as you are.

Knotholes

We said we would wait for God
before we did anything.
We ate our meals with a third seat between us
vacant, so He could sit and observe
our pure conversations
stilted devotional rhetoric
church banter
musings of creation;
amongst the blades of glass on the table
filled with apple juice
that cast chlorophyllic shadows
across the white table cloth
and reflected on the silvery pools of knives and forks
which glimmered in blank response.

You used to telephone me in the morning
so we could pray together;
at night for Bible study.
Visits round mine consisted of sitting by the coffee table
Bible open,
and our bottomless eyes staring at newsprint
becoming entranced in the thees the thys the thous the therefores
It seeped through in your prayers, this language
to take me back to a buried age–
your words fell upon me till I was foetal and surrounded
hands tied together, noose around my neck, shackles on.
Men calling–

WITCH

–to my face.

Our Bible was imperative to our meetings,
the paper thin, like the skin of a cocoon
fragile, wings of a moth
pure, like doilies on wedding tables
family, friends and anonymouses crowding around us
as we dance, Bible confetti snowing down on our heads
Bible petals falling on a consummation bed
dotted red with consummation blood
red turning to auburn, auburn to chestnut
the wild of me as we interlock, hidden in knotholes in the forest
and back again, to meet the disappointment
of cyclical blood: burnt umber,
the ashes of my hope swirls like dust unearthed
from a rug.

Trivial things of married couples
arguments, torn wedding dresses
reconciliations in bathtubs
counting down menstrual days like prophecy
until you can try again.

You and I failed to get there.
I remember staring at the ceiling
as it swam in my wetted eyes
and feeling forbidden blood oozing down my legs.
We were still young
and illegitimate.
Our Bible open above us but cold and foreboding
every swirl of the letter was like a dismayed Eye.
We were on the floor, by the coffee table. Behind us,
was the vacant chair
where God should have been.

Grey Areas and the Christian

One of the things I really dislike about Christianity … or Christians (I’m not sure which at this point), is that the over-simplification of life tends to be part of the “territory”. The Bible does say that you are either for God or against Him, there’s no denying that, but there are things that I feel need debate because they’re not explicitly addressed in the Bible.

The Novel, is the main one that comes to mind. I love reading–absolutely adore it. I thank my mum who, even though we had little money growing up, made sure to take my sister and I to the library every Saturday so we could pick up books. My mum really inspired me to read and there were books everywhere in the house. She’s not a Christian and back then she had no interest in Christianity either, so there was no religious material. Lots of horror stuff, actually. Gore. Crime thrillers. I know she read loads of Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, Tom Clancy, Deen Koontz, Lee Child and John Grisham. There were loads of Pattersons too, and Ruth Rendells and Danielle Steels… I was attracted to horror when I was young (I think most children are. Who didn’t love telling scary stories to their mates during sleepovers?) and I read a lot of mum’s tomes even if I didn’t understand all the words. I think I read Deathday when I was about 7. ‘Twas fun.

As I got older, tastes changed, but I never stopped reading. Sadly, though, the main feeling I get, since coming into the church, is that reading anything other than Ellen White or the Bible is wrong. I find that really worrying.

Because what is the argument here? That anything secular is wrong? So does that mean that auto/biographies are wrong? Or history books? Or science books? Or poetry anthologies?

Or are novels the problem? Things that are fictional. Why so? Fiction is fiction is fiction. Events that happen in most novels are actually more believable than the Bible, in fact. No author tries to manipulate their readership into believing something that is never going to happen.

I wonder if it’s the popularity of novels? The Harry Potters and Similar Tales. The things that draw people away from what’s “really important”? What I’ve realised about the people who are anti Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and other popular fantasy stories is their over-zealous, almost obsessive hatred for these stories because it’s easy. In the same way it’s easy to be against certain strains of rock music (Black/Death metal in particular), because of all the black, the upside down crosses, the explicit lyrics; but get annoyed whenever someone speaks against acoustic music, or jazz. All of those genres are secular, but only with music do people intelligently discern between the “good” and the “bad”.

When it comes to novels, though, something just doesn’t compute with people. It’s all a bit higgledy-piggledy, because I know people who say that novels are wrong (whilst quoting E.G. White’s comments on the dangers of novels), and yet they’ll read 1984—A novel. Or they’ll read Austen, or Dickens. Or Shakespeare plays. These are all fiction, can they not see how confused they are?

And why, pray tell, do none of these people have a problem with The Pilgrim’s Progress? A book cherished by Christians. Or similarly, Paradise Lost? Allegories are literary devices used in fiction all the time.

I know how to be discerning. I know that there are some novels that are just unedifying. Twilight is unedifying (even if it was written by a Mormon), 50 Shades is unedifying, anything by Dan Brown is unedifying (haha, I kid), but for me, as an aspiring writer, the first criteria I give for a novel being unedifying is: will it make me a better writer? Will I learn anything from it? Will it teach me how to write well? Then I think about the sort of responses it’ll induce in me; the thoughts it’ll put into my head; if the novel is glorifying  violence and crime? (note: describing is not glorifying, otherwise we shouldn’t be reading the Old Testament).

Those sort of things.

If I ever have children, I want to give them the passion of reading. Especially as Black children, children who society has already called “second-class, unintelligent” (“What’s the best way to hide something from a Black man? Put it in a book”). I don’t think that just because you’re a Christian then you should never read anything fictional. What’s wrong with imagination? (Cue Spongebob)

I also say this because I write fiction… and I’m currently writing a novel (haha), so I’ve always wondered if I’d be dis-fellowshipped from the church for being such HEATHEN? ; )

xXx

The Only Time I Feel Really Ashamed to be A Christian

Well, not the only time.

And also, I don’t think I’ll ever be ashamed to be a Christian. I’ll never be ashamed to follow Christ, but there are times when I feel uncomfortable that there are true fruit bats out there, claiming the same name as me.

I could talk about the American Christian Right, and how, because of that country’s influence, people the world over have used Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and George W. Bush to speak for the rest of us, just so they can laugh and mock Christians and continue their campaign to get religion abolished from the world.

But I won’t. My discomfort is felt on a more local level. There’s a particular topic that comes up from time to time, especially on Sabbath afternoons, during lunchtimes, when we’re discussing politics and religion and the Bible, that makes me cringe. Sometimes the topic comes up during a sermon even, or Sabbath School, or Wednesday night Prayer Meetings.

I speak of homosexuality.

It’s an odd thing, because those Christians from denominations who claim to only follow the New Testament will quote Leviticus, which is in the Old Testament, to explain why homosexuality is wrong. Then you have the other Christians who see God as only loving. They will quote “God is Love”, “God so loved the world…” which are all true quotes—because God is love—but then they forget that God is also a God of standard, of justice, and there are some things that displease him. They forget that God is soon coming to judge us all, and to destroy the world with fire. As an Adventist, I suppose it’s easier for me to quote from the Old Testament because the Seventh-day Adventist church practices from the Old Testament. As in, we don’t eat pork, shell fish or mackerel. And all the other texts, such as keeping slaves and stoning wrongdoers are not followed because Jesus said those laws were done away with*. The text about not wearing cotton and wool was more to do with the spread of leprosy than it being an actual sin**. So yes, it makes more sense for Adventists to quote from Leviticus, because we still follow those laws from Leviticus that weren’t nailed to the Cross.

But there’s a sense of oneupmanship about this, a vibe that I feel from certain Adventists, that makes me cringe.

No matter what we Christians say about sin (“oh all sin is the same!”) there are some sins that we think are worse than others. I witnessed a great example of this a couple years ago: during the sermon, a pastor confessed, with great flippancy, that he had a temporary ban from driving for using his mobile phone in the car. The congregation tutted and shook their heads, giggling slightly, and that was it. He broke the law! Knowingly! Can you imagine the reaction if he’d said

“Good morning church. Yeah, tough week. I’ve been sleeping on the sofa because I punched my wife in the face.”

It would illicit a different reaction, I’m sure. Even me, when I hear about child sex abuse cases and paedophiles, I just get so angry. At this moment in time, I feel that I would never be able to forgive a paedophile, because what they do is awful. When I hear about adulterers, I get angry also. But lying or stealing, whilst bad, doesn’t conjure the same feelings in my heart. I suppose that’s how some Christians feel about homosexuality. Especially Christians from cultures that shun gay people. They can’t explain it, but the thought of gay marriage, gay adoption and even civil partnerships get’s them angrier than all other sins. I was at a Youth Day of Fellowship a few months ago, listened to a great sermon, which was interrupted by a PSA about gay people. The preacher was doing so well, then he started talking about promiscutiy, then that led onto a little rant about gay people, about homosexuals not knowing the “right way to enter” and I grimaced. What was worse, people were laughing with him. Why? He was being mean, so why was his homophobia so acceptable?

A part of me can understand the hand-wringing that people get into when it comes to sexual matters. Even in wider society people act … odd about it. We concern ourselves far too much with other consenting adults’ sexual activities. Like, when we hear that someone is into kinky stuff, or strange festishes, we shun them. I know for a fact that there are some people who would be horrified to know that their family doctor engaged in hardcore S&M. It’s sad, but true. I think that these issues are most prevalent in church. During the Dark Ages, the church tried it’s best to suppress other people’s sexual appetite and we still see this today. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve never agreed with the forced celibacy of priests in the Catholic church. It just seems oppressive and unhealthy to me.

I understand that we as Christians should call sin by its right name, as it were. If the Bible says homosexuality is a sin then fine, direct people to the Bible and gently let them know. Then let it go. I just hate the jokes, the cruelty, the nasty remarks about gay people, especially because I have gay friends that I would love to take to church with me because I think they would really enjoy it, but I’m just so scared about what they might hear. And that’s awful—it’s shameful, even. God is for everyone, but some of His people are turning others away from Him.

I just wish that people had the same dislike for this sin that they did for their own. Then maybe they would feel remorse for their homophobia.

(*John 8
**Leviticus 13
I mentioned these texts because they, along with the food laws, are usually quoted in defence of why we shouldn’t follow anything in Leviticus. Hope it helps.)